Social Housing (Regulation) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 29th November 2022.
We welcome the Government’s decision, in response to concerns raised during the passage of the Building Safety Act 2022, to carry out a consultation on the introduction of mandatory checks on electrical installations for social housing at least once every five years and to include measures within this Bill to partially implement such checks—only partially, because the section of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 that this clause seeks to amend is concerned with properties let by landlords, not owner-occupier leaseholders. That is an important distinction, for reasons I will explain.
As we know, there is currently no legal requirement in England for social landlords or leaseholders to undertake electrical safety checks of their dwellings. The situation is distinct from that in the private rented sector, where the Housing and Planning Act introduced mandatory safety checks on electrical installations at least once every five years.
We know that fires in numerous tower blocks, including Grenfell, Shepherd’s Court, and Lakanal House, were caused by electricity. Home Office fire data shows a consistently high level of accidental electrical fires in high-rise buildings with 10 or more flats. Campaign groups such as Electrical Safety First have been at pains to stress that those buildings were mixed-tenure buildings containing an assortment of owner-occupier leasehold and social rented units and that there is therefore a case, given that the fire safety of a building depends on the safety of all the units within it, for ensuring parity in electrical safety standards across all tenures in high-rise residential blocks.
The Government’s own consultation on this issue noted that the National Federation of ALMOs supported introducing electrical safety requirements for owner-occupiers in mixed-tenure blocks and highlighted that properties being considered by authorities for London’s right to buy-back programme often have electrical installations that are
“in a state of significant disrepair.”
Given that we know that many high-rise social housing blocks contain owner-occupied flats owned on a leasehold basis, it surely cannot be right that a leaseholder living next door to a social renter will not have their electrical installations mandated to be checked every five years. To put it another way, what good is having the electrical installations of two thirds of a building checked every five years if the other third is not? The risk of a potentially life-threatening fire obviously does not discriminate by tenure.
This is a very significant point, particularly with what happened at Grenfell. We should reflect on that carefully. Who does the hon. Gentleman suggest should carry out the inspections and how would they be enforced? One of the problems that is clearly still relevant is people buying second-hand white goods that are not safety checked, which could then be faulty and cause electrical fires. In his research, has the hon. Member come up with any proposals as to how this measure could be implemented and work could be undertaken?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point—it is a point well made. I do not have a comprehensive answer to hand. There are provisions in this clause that apply to mandatory electrical safety checks for social rented properties. There are similar requirements in place for the private rented sector. My instinct is that it would seem obvious that those could be applied to the owner-occupier sector in a way that the provisions in the clause perhaps could not be. Whatever way we cut it, what we want to see are mandatory checks on all electrical installations in all units in high-rise buildings, because, as I said, fire does not discriminate between tenure. I hope the Minister will take the points away for further consideration.
The shadow Minister is right to highlight the consultation, which concluded in August. It included a call for evidence seeking views on whether leasehold properties in mixed tenure social housing blocks should have mandatory five-year checks. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East was right to say that we need to get this mechanism right to ensure that people living in mixed-use blocks are protected. I am grateful to the shadow Minister for his pragmatism on this point. We are still assessing the responses to the consultation, so it is a bit too early to say what the outcome will be and we do not wish to pre-empt it. However, we will announce further details as the work progresses, and I will endeavour to keep the shadow Minister informed.